‘Do we really need to know?’ – 2nd August 2020 – 8th Sunday after Trinity

The Readings

Genesis 32.22-31

The same night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two maids, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. He took them and sent them across the stream, and likewise everything that he had. Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, ‘Let me go, for the day is breaking.’ But Jacob said, ‘I will not let you go, unless you bless me.’ So he said to him, ‘What is your name?’ And he said, ‘Jacob.’ Then the man said, ‘You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.’ Then Jacob asked him, ‘Please tell me your name.’ But he said, ‘Why is it that you ask my name?’ And there he blessed him. So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, ‘For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.’ The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip.

Matthew 14.13-21

Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, ‘This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.’ Jesus said to them, ‘They need not go away; you give them something to eat.’ They replied, ‘We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.’ And he said, ‘Bring them here to me.’ Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.


Scripture Quotations are from The New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989, 1995 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

The Sermon

By Kath, a Reader at St. Mary's

I think I can say, with a fair amount of confidence that I’m not alone in liking to know how things work. I say “with confidence” because many TV channels are full of programmes about how things work or how they are designed or made and if you’ve ever tried getting a place on a tour of a factory or power station or theatre or indeed any kind of “behind the scenes” visit you will know that they get booked up pretty quickly. Obviously a lot of us “like to know”. We’re curious, fascinated, intrigued and sometimes amazed at what we see and learn and quite rightly so. I’ve been on numerous such visits and loved every one of them and I’ve spent many a happy hour watching programmes like “How it’s Made”, “Kirstie’s Handmade Home”, “Grand Designs” “Abandoned Engineering” and even “Wheeler Dealers” where each episode, Ed China, a mechanic, skilfully restores some clapped-out old vehicle to its former glory. There are some very clever people around!

That said, although we might like or want to know, much of the time we don’t actually need to know how something works in order to use it, appreciate it or benefit from it. For instance, I can drive a car and although I have a rough idea of how it works, I don't know in detail and I certainly couldn’t explain it or mend it if it broke down. Likewise with the computer I’m using to write this sermon, I can operate it without knowing much about how it works nor do I really understand how the internet works in order for it to reach you. Interesting as it all is, I don’t actually need to know.

Maybe it’s quite a leap, maybe not, to say that I have a similar approach to what I encounter in the Bible. I like to know and understand and be able to see an explanation or reason in the stories but that isn’t always possible because some things are beyond the ability of even the cleverest of us to understand or explain so that certainly rules me out. And I’m ok with that! I’m certainly not advocating that we don’t question what we are presented with; that would be foolhardy and has in the past been very damaging and disastrous when faith has been placed in individuals who are either deluded about their own greatness or have ulterior motives, nor should we wilfully ignore evidence that doesn’t fit in with what we want to believe but I accept that there are some things we just can’t explain or know. That doesn’t mean that they aren’t true or didn’t happen or that we can’t benefit and be enriched by them. People who are sceptical or hostile about religious faith want evidence, which believers can’t provide; if we could it wouldn’t be called faith, and the sceptics can’t prove that our faith is wrong or misplaced. The most obvious example of something we all know to be real but can’t be proved with empirical evidence is love. Love can take many forms and expressions of love can be of an even greater variety but no matter how extravagant they might be, they are not proof. In matters of love there is also a lot of trust involved and a willingness to make ourselves vulnerable. We can’t know for certain whether the love professed for us is real however much we want to.

Our reading from Matthew’s Gospel tells the story of Jesus feeding the five thousand, one of the best known of the miracles he performed and it’s a story known to more than just church goers and believers. Many of us choose to believe it but we can’t prove it happened or know how Jesus did it. But do we really need to know in order to benefit or be enriched by it? I personally don’t think so because there is a lot more besides the miracle itself to be enriched by.

To set the story in context, Jesus has been rejected by the people of his hometown Nazareth. In spite of hearing his teaching in their synagogue and being amazed by his deeds they can’t get past the knowledge that he was “the carpenter’s son”, they know his mother is Mary and they know his brothers and sisters and they effectively devalued him. So he moved on. He then received devastating news that his cousin John, who baptised him, had been executed, murdered because he had upset Herodias by criticising King Herod’s relationship with her. Understandably Jesus wanted some time to himself to take in and start to come to terms with what had happened and no doubt to grieve for John. He may also have been frightened; we can’t know.

But his time alone was not to be because the crowds followed him. Instead of insisting on his own need for privacy and space we are told that when he saw them “he had compassion for them”. He goes to them to “cure their sick” and he teaches them. As evening drew near, the Disciples, quite sensibly, suggested that Jesus send the people into the nearby towns so they could get some food. They too were probably thinking of the people’s welfare and concerned for Jesus himself. Imagine their feelings when he said “you give them something to eat”. What? How are we supposed to do that? We’ve only got five small loaves and two fish! No doubt their stress levels were immediately rocketing. But then came the miracle when Jesus blessed the food and gave it to the Disciples to share among the crowd. It would have been impressive if he had fed twenty people with such a modest amount of food but we are told that five thousand men plus women and children, so possibly seven to ten thousand people, “ate and were filled” and there were twelve baskets of leftovers. We can’t know how Jesus did this. Does that detract from the story? Not for me. For those who demand hard, irrefutable evidence before they will believe anything all I can think is that our history books would be a lot thinner than they are and life in general would be a lot meaner and poorer than it is. For me what stands out in the story is Jesus’ loving care and compassion for others, something each of us can do our best to emulate, thereby enriching life for us all.

The Prayers

Prepared by Joe

With thankful hearts we bring our prayers to our heavenly Father...

We pray for the Church of Christ, for Bishop Pete and Canon Sophie, all here who lead us in worship and prayer, and all those whose time and talents are given to St Mary's to create a place of worship here in Walkley. At this time when we are physically separated from our brothers and sisters in Christ, we pray for each other.
Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

We pray that we can exhibit the generosity of spirit, time and resources as exemplified by the feeding of the five thousand. May we all be willing to put whatever resources we have at your disposal, so you can multiply what we offer to further your Kingdom.
Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

We pray for all those in authority, and those who have influence in the world, that their power and influence be used compassionately for the good of all. We pray for the late US Civil Rights leader John Lewis, who used his influence and faith to be a cause of ‘good trouble’ in furthering the rights of black Americans throughout his life. As parts of the country go in to local special measures for Covid-19, we pray for those in positions of leadership in those areas.

Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

We pray for our community here in Walkley, and for the city of Sheffield, and for our neighbours and friends. We also pray for those in the North West and West Yorkshire where Covid-19 has again flared up, leading to restrictions of family contact. This is particularly sad coming at the time of Eid, and we pray that all those affected may still find your presence around them.
Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

Lord, we pray for those we know who are worried and troubled especially at this time of continuing uncertainty. We pray for those whose health and livelihoods have been affected by Covid-19, and those who have ongoing health or emotional problems where treatments are still only partially available.

We pray for the aged and infirm, and those sick in mind, body or spirit, those that need your grace and blessing. Be with them at this time, Lord, and give them peace and strength.
Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

We pray for those close to death at this time, and those accompanying them on this final part of their Earthly journey. We pray for those who have died, recently and in the past, and those who mourn. We especially pray for those who have died without the comfort of their family around them, and those who felt fear and felt alone in their last moments. We pray that they were comforted by your presence, Lord, and that you give strength and love to all those close to death and caring for the dying at this time.
Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

Finally, Lord, we silently bring before you those special to us.
Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

Rejoicing in the communion of Mary and of all the Saints, let us commend ourselves, and one another, and all our life, to God.
Merciful Father:
Accept these prayers
for the sake of your Son,
our Saviour, Jesus Christ.


Common Worship: Services and Prayers for the Church of England, material from which is included in these prayers, is copyright (c) The Archbishops' Council 2000